Featuring five artists Cheng Xinhao, Zoë Marden, Rafal Topolewski, Xiao Hanqiu, Zhang Meng, Becoming Creature – The Chthonics, the Statue and Man, with the main title referring to the work of Zoë Marden, immerses the viewer into a lucid dream consists of paintings and moving images. It is a dream that is powered by the mysterious tentacular creatures – the Chthonic ones. Championed as the main protagonist in 'Staying with the Trouble', these creatures here visualise a world constantly forming and un-forming.
The tentacular ones, [they] make attachments and detachments; they make cuts and knots; they make a difference; they weave paths and consequences but not determinisms; they are both open and knotted in some ways and not others.
– Staying with the Trouble, Donna J. Haraway
These creatures, they originate from an imaginative timespace, the Chthulucene. Amid the rising doubts on Anthropocene and the Capitalocene, two conceptual frameworks to examine the evolution of humanity, Chthulucene directs us to think differently about humans and non-humans in times of heavy losses in life and quality of environment. These tentacular thinkers, as they attempt not to fall victim to cynicism and self-fulling predictions, they present a metaphor of a self-reflective, de-centralising and sympoietic means of recognising and reconstructing the troubling reality. The exhibition imagines that, by inviting the artists into this dream, their works become new tentacles, forming new conversations with each other, and reaching out to the viewers with messages from the Chthulucene.
Performance artist and filmmaker Zoë Marden takes the form of a sci-fi narrative short film. Diving into a hyperreality of Chthulucene, a world made up of ongoing multispecies stories and practises of becoming – the artist performs herself as a mermaid, tapping into the biotic and abiotic powers of this earth to construct the story.
Rafal Topolewski's paintings are tentacles with treacherous love. In his paintings, desire for love and passion for life arise from fears and threats. In Untitled (Hope), a fish suspended, strives to live in a burning-red sea of plants of an apocalyptic world; in Untitled (Deep Breathe), memory recollections from a dream of Topolewski morph into a peculiar depiction of the phallic, hinting at the crumbling patriarchal order.
The investigative film the March of Elephants by the filmmaker, researcher Cheng Xinhao and the iconoclastic painting of artist Xiao Hanqiu focus on our frenetic pursuance of icon – through which power manifests its form in the passing of time. It questions the backbone of an Anthropocentric society: the celebration of the Species Man, the Creature that made history. Finally, we call for a possible era to come from Zhang Meng's drawings, one that seeks coherence and mutual recognition in the biotic and abiotic powers on this planet.
– Text by Yisi Li, inspired by Zoë Marden's Becoming Creature
Cheng Xinhao (b.1985, China) currently lives and works in Kunming, China. Cheng's works are usually based on long-term field studies, centring around the history of his hometown in Yunnan Province. With videos, installations, photographs and words, he personally investigates between logic, discussions, knowledge, and the part that nature, society, and history play within them.
His works are widely collected by the public institutions and private collections, including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen (Denmark), China Port Museum, Ningbo (China) and Contemporary Gallery Kunming, Kunming (China). Apart from that, his recent publications include 24 Mails from the Railway, published by Jiazazhi Press (2020) and Time from Different Sources: Images from Ciman Village, published by Jiazazhi Press (2017).
His recent exhibitions include: Becoming Creature, Tabula Rasa Gallery, (London, 2022, group); The Language of Mushrooms: The Interspecies Internet, Contemporary Gallery Kunming, (Kunming, 2022, group); The Port and the Image 3: Echoes of the Port, China Port Museum, (Ningbo, 2022, group); River Pulses, Border Flows, Guangdong Times Museum, (Guangzhou, 2022, group); Floating Wood and Drowning Stone, Tabula Rasa Gallery, (Beijing, 2021, solo); Air Waste Health Water Energy Soil, Gleis 70, (Zurich, 2021, group), just to name a few.
Zoë Marden (b.1985, Hong Kong) is an artist, filmmaker, and writer based in London. She obtained her MA degree from the Royal College of Art's Moving Image in 2018. Marden works with performance, video, text, sound, sculpture and installation to create alternate worlds and speculative futures. Her research-focused works are concerned with Posthuman feminisms and where they overlap with the postcolonial. Her intimate performances play with the voice, activating soundscapes of desire and vulnerability. Recent projects have investigated the mythologies of witches and mermaids and their resonance within contemporary culture. She is part of the CAMPerVAN collective, a nomadic queer performance platform that has been active since 2016.
Her recent selected exhibitions include: Becoming Creature, Tabula Rasa Gallery, (London, 2022, group); Born to make you happy, The Residence Gallery, (London, 2022, group); Marine Lovers...their fishy beginnings, V.O. Curations, (London, 2022, solo); Queer to the Bank, Galleria Fonti, (Naples, 2021, group); DOMINO, PAF festival, (London, 2020, group); Futureless, Somos Gallery, (Berlin, 2020); Remember the Liquid Ground, Gasworks, (London, 2020); Stay Live at Home, Perform, (Istanbul, 2020); Grounded, Coastal Currents Arts Festival, (2020); Gaze to the UNKNOWN, Mimosa House, (London, 2019); AMY/YMA, Serpentine Gallery, (London, 2019); Unbothered + Moisturised, Eaton Workshop, (Hong Kong, 2019); Equinox Light Cure, Exposed Arts, (London, 2019).
Rafal Topolewski (b.1983, Poland) is a Lisbon-based artist. Primarily working with the medium of painting, Topolewski's works negotiate ideas about artificiality, psychology and intimacy in relation to representation and objecthood. The works investigate the connection between these aspects and how they intersect. Topolewski's compositions contain elements that are corresponding with his interest in superstition, belief systems, obsessive-compulsive disorder and the following consequences/aftermath. The above aspects are viewed from both more intimate, personal points of view and experiences but also as a generic social issue. The application of paint is not heavy-handed, the compositions are laden with poetry, elegy and intimacy at once. Having boomeranged from figuration to abstraction and then back again, his work duly picked up new understandings of the way objects and bodies work formally, how they operate within space, and thus their potential for containment within the picture plane. Rafal Topolewski studied Fine Art at the Royal Academy of Arts and at the Manchester Metropolitan University.
Selected recent solo and group exhibitions include: Castelet, Simo Bacar, (Lisbon 2022, group); Corpo e Mente, curated by Lawrence Van Hagen, Palazzo Barbaro, (Venice 2022, group); If Not, Winter, Simo Bacar, (Lisbon 2022, solo); Isle, Lewis Hammond and Rafal Topolewski, Smart Objects, (Los Angeles 2018, dual-solo); Terraforms, The Concept Space, (London 2018, group), just to name a few.
Xiao Hanqiu (b.1986, China) is a painter and a poet. Xiao's paintings on canvas juxtapose objects in situations that conjure the ethereal magic and intensity of being. Her paintings operate like her poems: linear narrative is rejected in favour of open questions that reflect on the complexity, ineffability, and inconstancy of experience. Xiao received her MA fine art from Chelsea College of Art and Design in 2011, and BA fine art from Leeds University in 2008.
Highlight of her exhibitions include: Love sotires and horror stories, Lyles and King (New York, 2022, solo); LISTE Art Fair Basel 2021, Tabula Rasa Gallery (Basel, 2021, dual solo); Honey, Bee, Tabula Rasa Gallery, (London, 2021, solo); Skating Through the Gallery with Tricksy Snakes, Tabula Rasa Gallery, (Beijing, 2018,solo); That's Quite Something, Canton Gallery, (Guangzhou, 2018, solo); and Self-portrait, Tabula Rasa Gallery, (Beijing, 2016).
She has published four poem collections: Losing Everything is Beautiful (2022), A Dream Comes True (2019), Three Minutes to Midnight Flower Thief (2018) and Four Hearts (2015).
Zhang Meng (b.1983, China) is a linguistics scholar turned artist currently living and working in Karlsruhe, Germany. Her creations reflect her wild imaginations on the collective mythologies of the West and the East. Furthermore, figures in her paintings are often emotionally troubled and detached; or they are often obscured, and hidden within the landscapes, conveying a sense of fragility and strangeness. This is also tangible in the media she employs: charcoal, pencil, hot wax and paper which are naturally brittle, slippery and ephemeral.
She completed her postgraduate studies from Academy of Fine Art Karlsruhe, Germany in 2018. Prior to this, she received her PhD degree in Fine Arts from Academy of Art and Design at Tsinghua University Beijing, her MFA and BA in English Literature at Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts.
Her works are featured in several museum and gallery exhibitions such as: We are so many here, Kunsthalle Basel (Basel, 2022, group); Works on Paper, Stevenson Gallery, (South Africa, 2021, group); LISTE Art Fair Basel 2021 (Basel, 2021, dual-solo); Tones and Toes, Tabula Rasa Gallery, (London, 2021, solo); Ich Singe, Nordheimer Scheune, (Nordheim, 2021, solo); Let Painter Talk, Taikang Space, (Beijing, 2021, group); NINININI PENG, neewhom, Gebäude im Passagehof 24 (Karlsruhe, 2019, group); Regionale 19, Kunsthalle Palazzo (Switzerland, 2018, group), etc.
Press release courtesy Tabula Rasa Gallery.